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This article and post was developed through a sponsored collaboration with National Dairy Council.
What if you love dairy foods, but are hesitant because you have lactose intolerance (LI)? You’ll be happy to know that yogurt can be a great dairy food for you.
DYK? Yogurt is often well-tolerated by those with lactose intolerance (1). Let’s dig in.
Lactose intolerance facts
Lactose intolerance is a common gut health concern, but what exactly is lactose?
Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar in milk and is technically two sugars linked together. Your body makes an enzyme called lactase and its job is to break apart those two sugars for absorption (2).
When someone has LI their body isn’t making enough of the lactase enzyme and as a result, the two sugars don’t get broken apart. That is when someone may experience some digestive discomfort.
LI is a real condition that can include digestive discomfort and social stress. Symptoms of LI may make your stomach feel upset such as bloating, loose stool, gas or nausea (2). A doctor can give an official diagnosis through a health history, exam, and/or breath test (2).
The thing to keep in mind when it comes to LI is that everyone has an individual response to lactose. There is no one standard amount of lactose that everyone can tolerate.
How to choose yogurt for lactose intolerance
Yogurt can be lower in lactose, which can make it a great choice for those concerned about digestive discomfort (3).
So which yogurt should you choose? Use these four tips to guide you in finding the yogurt for you.
Make sure your yogurt has live and active cultures
Out of all the tips, this is the most important.
You know how people say yogurt is a probiotic food? That is because of the live cultures found in yogurt. Live active cultures are actually live bacteria that are added when yogurt is fermented.
Look for yogurt that specifies on the ingredient list that it contains a specific probiotics strain (e.g., B. Bacterium 12); or yogurt containing the live and active cultures L. Bulgaricus and S. Thermophilus.
It is the live bacteria found in yogurt that can help lactose intolerance. The culturing process helps break down lactose, potentially easing digestion for people with lactose intolerance (4).
Try out Greek yogurt or Skyr
Two types of yogurt that will have live cultures along with being lower in lactose due to the straining process are Greek yogurt and Skyr.
Both Greek yogurt and Skyr have about 4 grams of lactose for 5.5 and 5.3 oz servings, respectively (5). A 5oz container of yogurt is what you would typically see on your grocery store shelf.
These also happen to be my favorite types of yogurt because they tend to be thicker in texture. The thickness of these yogurts means that you can incorporate yogurt into a lot of different types of recipes like dressings and dips.
Look for lactose-free yogurt
Thanks to so much innovation at the grocery store, there are also yogurt options that are completely lactose-free. Depending on the brand there’s a couple ways in which yogurt can be lactose-free.
The yogurt can be made from lactose-free milk or by adding the lactase enzyme, which will break down the lactose. This means you’ll still get all 7 essential nutrients in yogurt without any of the lactose.
Lactose-free yogurt or even lactose-free milk would be a good option for someone who has tolerance concerns.
Kefir can also be an option
Kefir can also be an option because it is also a fermented dairy product similar to yogurt.
A 4oz serving of plain kefir will have about 4 grams of lactose. It will also contain live and active cultures, which means it can also be a good option for those with LI.
You will usually see people drinking kefir which is a refreshing drink. Just be mindful of the quantity you drink because that can mean more lactose. You can use kefir similarly to yogurt when it comes to recipes like dressings and smoothies.
Yogurt is a versatile lower lactose option for your kitchen
One of my favorite things about yogurt is that it’s one of the most versatile lower lactose foods in your gut-friendly kitchen.
You will also be getting a solid source of probiotics for your gut but that’s not all. The live and active cultures in yogurt add beneficial bacteria for your digestive tract which can contribute to a healthy microbiome impacting your digestion (6).
Fermented milk, like yogurt and kefir, has been associated with benefits beyond the gut.
One of my favorite ways to use yogurt is in smoothies, give this peach vanilla yogurt smoothie a try.
Creamy Orange Yogurt Smoothie
- 1/2 cup sliced peaches, frozen
- 1 orange
- 5 oz vanilla yogurt
- 1/4 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 banana, frozen
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 tsp honey
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- Add all ingredients to the blender.
- Blend until smooth and creamy.
- Shaukat A, Levitt MD, Taylor BC, MacDonald R, Shamliyan TA, Kane RL, Wilt TJ. Systematic review: effective management strategies for lactose intolerance. Ann Intern Med. 2010 Jun 15;152(12):797-803. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-152-12-201006150-00241. Epub 2010 Apr 19. PMID: 20404262.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestivediseases/lactoseintolerance#:~:text=Definition%20%26%20Facts,as%20calcium%20and%20vitamin%20D
- Savaiano DA, Hutkins RW. Yogurt, cultured fermented milk, and health: a systematic review. Nutr Rev. 2021 Apr 7;79(5):599-614. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuaa013. PMID: 32447398; PMCID: PMC8579104.
- Savaiano DA. Lactose digestion from yogurt: mechanism and relevance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 May;99(5 Suppl):1251S-5S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.073023. Epub 2014 Apr 2. PMID: 24695892.
- National Dairy Council https://www.usdairy.com/getmedia/28f87fcc-e2d2-4499-b684-3221e3b32a2a/Yogurt-and-Lactose-Digestion-FINAL-7-12-21.pdf?ext=.pdf
- National Dairy Council https://www.usdairy.com/getmedia/4543b85a-bbe9-4413-a11d-b0629c562a3e/Fermented-Foods-Snapshot.pdf?ext=.pdf
Amanda is a pizza loving registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in mindfulness and gut health. She quickly realized that gut health goes beyond the gut; it is also about honoring our gut feelings. She is the creator of The Mindful Gut™ which uses science and strategy to help people improve their gut health.